1 earlier: Sarah Teather
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the whole Select Committee and, indeed, the previous Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), for the important report that we are debating today, and for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the future of Sure Start children’s centres.
The report has been timely and helpful as the Government develop their approach to early years. The debate has on the whole been very good and constructive, with focused speeches about the future direction of policy, but the report demonstrates the extent of the all-party support for children’s centres as vital hubs of excellence in delivering integrated services to families, particularly those who most need support and advice. I have listened with interest to Members, and I shall try to address as many issues and concerns as I possibly can, as well as picking up on the key areas of our response to the Select Committee report. I am mindful, however, that I now have very little time left in which to speak.
The start of the debate was particularly important, because the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) reminded us why we are debating the matter. Early years are the foundation for life. High-quality early intervention has the potential to turn around life chances, and poor experiences in early years, such as those to which the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) referred, can actually change the physical nature of the brain. The failure to develop relationships of attachment can affect a child for ever, not just in the first few years of life. That is precisely why the Government have prioritised spending in this area, as the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) discussed.
I was struck by the comments of the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) about the importance of Sure Start in providing other support for families, not just for children. Let me be clear about this from the start. The coalition Government see Sure Start as vital to their work on social mobility: it is a key priority. Sure Start has proved itself to be a programme that has the capacity to be life-changing, and we want to build on its success. The Chair of the Select Committee said that he hoped we were not going to rip everything up. That is exactly what we are not doing. We are building on the good aspects of Sure Start, but, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead said, trying to develop it to ensure that we focus, particularly with more evidence-based programmes, on the families and children who need our support most. We believe that the best way to do this is through greater local decision making and accountability, more involvement of organisations that have proven expertise in service delivery, and, specifically, more use of evidence-based programmes.
Our response to the Committee’s report clearly states that, in our view, the main purpose of children’s centres is to ensure that families get help when they need it and to tackle issues early to prevent costly problems from emerging later. We want children’s centres to provide the foundation for stronger early joined-up working offering universal services for all families and targeted services focused on the neediest of those families.
Several hon. Members spoke about the need for evaluations, so let me pick up on a few of those points. The Government have commissioned an evaluation of Sure Start children’s centres in England that runs until 2016 alongside the national evaluation of Sure Start, which is evaluating a wide range of children’s centres. A report on the cost-effectiveness of the earlier Sure Start local programmes will be published later this year. I hope that that will be very useful information, for which the Chair of the Select Committee, in particular, asked.
The introduction of payment by results will incentivise better local evaluation of the impact of centres on children’s outcomes. In response to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and the Opposition spokesperson, I point out that when we begin trialling payment by results, some additional money will be going in to help us to do that. We will then learn from those trials to find the most effective way to roll out payment by results in future to ensure that we can incentivise children’s outcomes.